Georgia Criminal Law – Possession of Tools

Georgia law criminalizes the possession of tools for the commission of a crime. In fact, it is a felony offense. Not all tools in your possession will result in criminal charges. The law states it is unlawful to possession any tool, explosive, or device commonly used in burglary, theft, or another crime, with the intent to make use thereof in the commission of a crime.

Examples of tools that can result in criminal charges are crowbars, hammers, and glass break devices as these are all commonly used in burglaries and thefts. You could be arrested if found looking inside someone’s car windows late at night with a glass break tool in your hand, even if there is no theft. However, not only tools associated with burglary are criminalized.  For example, we routinely see pipes and scales charged as Possession of Tools, as these items are used to commit crimes of Possession of Drugs. In these instances, the rule of Lenity applies, which is discussed below under the Defenses section

What is the sentence for Possession of Tools in Georgia?

The sentence for Possession of Tools is a 1 to 5 year imprisonment sentence. (See O.C.G.A. § 16-7-20). Possession of tools is a felony offense, which means it is sentenced more harshly than misdemeanors. Felonies can take away your civil rights moving forward and can make finding employment very difficult. For example, if you are convicted of Possession of Tools, you immediately lose your right to vote and your ability to carry a firearm.

What are Possible Defenses to Possession of Tools in Georgia?

First, the mere possession of a common instrument is not a crime. A screw driver can be used to commit crimes, but it can also be used for numerous other lawful purposes. The same goes with wire cutters, flashlights, and gloves. These items are commonly used for all sorts of lawful and legitimate activities. The State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was intent to use the tool to commit a crime. It is an incredibly high standard, especially since tools are used for so many other purposes.

Additionally, any time contraband is found, a thorough investigation must be conducted by a criminal defense attorney very quickly after arrest, into whether or not a valid, lawful, and constitutional search had occurred. We all have a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. An officer cannot search your car without probable cause of a crime occurring, and then later charge you with a felony after finding a tool common in burglaries. In this instance, the tools found could be suppressed, and the case subsequently dismissed.

Other defenses fall on whether or not the tool is one that is commonly used for the commission of the crime. The State must not only prove that the accused actually possessed a tool, but the tool must be one that is commonly used to commit crimes. For example, Georgia law has held that body armor is not a tool commonly used in armed robbery, and thus there is insufficient evidence to show proof Possession of Tools in that situation. Georgia law has also held a two-by-four was not a tool for purposes of this statute in an Armed Robbery case for the same reason: it is not a device commonly used to commit that crime.

The rule of lenity may also apply in felony Possession of Tools cases. This means that even if you are charged with a felony, Georgia law may require you be given a misdemeanor sentence. For example, if the conduct alleged falls within both felony Possession of Tools and misdemeanor Possession of Drug Related Object, then the Lenity rule requires that person be subject to misdemeanor penalties.

If you or a loved one has been arrested for POSSESSION OF TOOLS in the State of Georgia, W. Scott Smith is here to offer a FREE CONSULTATION at 404-581-0999.

Robbery v. Theft by Shoplifting

My last two robbery blogs discussed robbery by force and robbery by sudden snatching. Both contemplate the taking of someone’s property from their person or immediate presence. Moreover, both require that the victim be aware of the theft before it’s completed. The main difference, of course, is one does not require force, aka snatching.

But what about robbery by force or sudden snatching in a retail business?

I once represented someone accused of robbery by force for taking a case of beer from the refrigerator of a gas station without paying for it. The gas station employees attempted to stop my client from taking the beer. They blocked the exit and tried to pry the beer from his hand. With the case of beer tucked under one arm, he used the other to hit and push both employees to the ground. He then walked out of the store with the beer and drove away.

Robbery or Shoplifting?

I recall initially thinking this is shoplifting, not robbery. But I could not have been more wrong. First, let’s think about immediate presence. Like I mentioned in my last blog, immediate presence is not limited to “within arm’s length” or “facing the victim”. There is case law stating property is within the immediate presence of a shop keeper if it’s within the retail space (see Sweet v. State, 304 Ga.App. 474, 697 S.E.2d 246 (2010)).

As I’ve discussed before, the shopkeepers must be aware of the taking before it is complete. In my beer case, the beer was taken from the shopkeeper’s immediate presence (because it was in their retail space) AND they were aware of the taking before it was complete. Finally, my client used force to fend off the shopkeepers and complete the taking of the beer. The elements of robbery by force were all checked off.

A Different Order of Events

Now, let’s pretend the shopkeeper did not realize he was stealing the beer until the very moment he walked out the store exit? Theft by taking or shoplifting? I think a prosecutor in this scenario could make an argument for theft by sudden snatching because the shopkeeper is aware of the theft before it’s complete and property was removed from the shopkeeper’s immediate presence.

If you or someone you know has been charged with robbery contact our office today for a free consultation.

Robbery by Force

Our last robbery blog discussed robbery by sudden snatching, and it is slightly different than robbery by force. Sudden snatching is when an offender is alleged to have stolen something from someone’s person or immediate presence without use of force or threat or intimidation. A key element of this crime is that the victim is aware of the theft before it’s complete.

What is Robbery by Force?

Robbery by force is the same except, of course, the offender uses force to steal something from another’s person or immediate presence. Force doesn’t have to be a violent act causing injury, per se. Think about it as any amount of force beyond snatching, usually resulting when the victim attempts to stop the offender from stealing their property and the offender responds with physical force.

What is Immediate Presence?

Let’s talk about “immediate presence”. How far does it extend? In Georgia, immediate presence is not limited to within arm’s length or facing the victim. Georgia case law seems to set the standard that so long as property is within the victim’s sight at the time of the robbery, it’s within their immediate presence. (See Perkins v. State, 256 Ga.App. 449, 568 S.E. 2d (2002) and Short v. State, 276 Ga. App 340, 623 S.E. 2d 195 (2005).

If you or someone you know has been charged with robbery contact our office today for a free consultation.

Robbery by Sudden Snatching

Robbery or Burglary?

It is not uncommon for people to use “robbery” and “burglary” interchangeably. For example, a person enters their home to discovery it’s been ransacked. They might exclaim, “I’ve been robbed!” That exclamation is inaccurate under Georgia law. In Georgia, that person is a victim of burglary, not robbery, because Georgia defines burglary as entering, or remaining in, a building without authority with the intent to commit a felony.

Robbery on the other hand contemplates taking property from the person or immediate presence of another with intent to commit theft. There are three types of robbery in Georgia: robbery by force, intimidation or threat of violence, and sudden snatching. I will review all three flavors in future blog posts, but for now let’s review sudden snatching.

Robbery by Snatching Scenario

When I think of robbery by sudden snatching, I picture an elderly woman walking along a city sidewalk with her purse. Suddenly, her purse is snatched off her shoulder by a swift offender. The offender does not use any force to take the purse from her; he merely snatches it off her person.

The lack of force employed to secure the purse highlights a key distinction between robbery by force and sudden snatching. If the elderly woman resisted and the offender used force by, say, pushing her to the ground to take her purse, then the offender committed robbery by force, not sudden snatching. Sudden snatching literally means taking the purse without any use of force.

A Key Distinction

Another key element of robbery by sudden snatching is that the victim must be conscious of the theft before it is completed. Say the elderly woman walking down the street does not realize the offender snatched her purse from her person, and only realizes her purse is missing when she attempts to pay the fee at her dry cleaners later that afternoon. As the offender’s attorney, I would argue the offender could not be prosecuted for robbery by sudden snatching because the victim was not aware of the theft when it happened. The offender may be guilty of theft by taking (because theft by taking does not require the victim to be conscious of the theft before it is completed), but he is not guilty of robbery by sudden snatching.

If you or someone you know has been charged with robbery contact our office today for a free consultation. We will be happy to walk through your goals and inform you of the various defenses that can be implemented for your case.

by Sarah Armstrong